Naperville North softball entered uncharted territory by winning Wednesday’s Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal against Plainfield East.
Behind a strong outing from pitcher Kathleen Hahne and a two-run homer by Tara Degl’lnnocenti, the Huskies will make their first appearance in a sectional final after knocking off the Bengals 5-2 at Phillips Park in Aurora.
Naperville North, the No. 6 seed in the East Aurora sectional, will face No. 4 seed Plainfield Central at 11 a.m. Saturday in the sectional final.
“I don’t know what Saturday will be like, it’s going to be brand new for Huskies softball,” Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora said.
“We’ve got a good pitcher right now, we’ve got a team that’s playing really good defense. And some timely hitting too. It’s pretty exciting — our chances might not set up ever as good as they are right now,” he added.
Hahne picked up the victory after giving up two runs and ten hits and striking out three batters over seven innings.
The senior showed some early-game nerves, giving up two runs on six hits during her first two innings in the circle. However, Hahne settled down from that point forward, surrendering no runs and just four singles the rest of the way.
“I always get really nervous for a game. It takes me a few batters to get into my own and work my pitches,” Hahne said.
Degl’lnnocenti gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning with a line-drive, two-run homer to left field.
An RBI single by Bengals shortstop Nina Maggio tied the game at 2-2 in the second inning, but the Huskies retook the lead in the third. Caitlyn Warren came home on an RBI groundout by Kailee Budicin, giving Naperville North a 3-2 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Huskies added two insurance runs in the fifth inning, going up 5-2 on an RBI triple by Warren and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Budicin.
“We knew that we had to come out and hit. We knew that they were going to be gunning for us, and everyone did a great job,” Degl’lnnocenti said. “It took a team effort, and we got it done.”
Hahne was assisted by a strong defensive performance from her teammates. The Huskies committed only one error and made a few sterling defensive plays, including a momentum-changing double play in the fourth inning.
With one out and a runner on first base, Degl’lnnocenti cleanly fielded a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Maggio and threw to shortstop Alexis Solak for the force out. First baseman Rachel Martin barely kept her foot on the bag as she made a fantastic stretch to collect Solak’s throw and complete the double play.
After that play, Hahne gave up just one more hit and the Huskies outscored the Bengals 2-0.
“To be able to turn a 4-6-3 like that, and those girls making every play possible from the third inning on, it’s a tremendous confidence boost,” Kedziora said. “These girls should now know that they can go out and compete against anybody.”
Plainfield East (22-12) was led on offense by No. 9 hitter Jessica Rio, who went 3-for-3 with three singles. Rio attempted to score on a single by Maggio in the second inning, but was thrown out at home by Huskies left fielder Stephanie Tobin.
Naperville North (24-12) will attempt to earn its first sectional title plaque when they face Plainfield Central on Saturday. The Wildcats advanced to the finals by defeating Neuqua Valley 2-1 on Wednesday.
“We know that we’re going to have our hands filled with Plainfield Central,” Kedziora said. “If we just go head out and play our game, maybe we can get something.”
I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.